Heroes' welcome for our sport stars
IRELAND'S Special Olympic athletes yesterday returned to a heroes' welcome at Dublin Airport with a record 29 medals.
The 34 athletes swept up 10 gold, eight silver and 11 bronze medals during the 2010 Special Olympic European Summer Games in Warsaw, Poland, last week.
They were welcomed to applause, praise and smiling faces as they touched down on Irish soil.
The team participated in athletics, badminton, bowling, football and table tennis during the games, which attracted 1,600 athletes from over 58 countries.
Yesterday, Matt English, CEO of Special Olympics Ireland, praised the team for doing so well in the prestigious games.
"We are so proud of each and every one of these fantastic athletes," he said. "They trained long and hard and that dedication certainly paid off."
Congratulating the team, Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin said the win was a boost for Ireland.
"It is a tremendous success for our Special Olympians," she said. "To all of the athletes and to the coaches and all of the supporters, they are a credit to Ireland -- well done."
As they celebrated with family and friends yesterday, Riobard Lankford, from Cork, was still reeling with delight from his win. He was the first to win a medal for the team -- a silver in badminton.
"I am delighted. I had been training a couple of weeks. It was brilliant to get the medal. I am so happy," he said.
Badminton player Ruth Geerah, from Mullingar, Co Westmeath, also told of her delight to win at the games. "I won the first game and then lost the second game, that is how I got the silver medal," she said.
Her mother Teresa said the games allowed Ruth to go abroad for the first time.
"I was out there with her. It was a fantastic atmosphere," she said. "She competed in the badminton and loved going away. She has participated in national competitions before tonight."
Padraig Corkery, head of sponsorship for Eircom, added: "Once again, Team Ireland have done us proud on the international stage."